When a friend of mine lost her darling cat to age and illness, she told me that her next in a long line of feline companions wouldn't be a kitten. Partly, because she thought she was old enough that a kitten might outlive her, and partly because she didn't think she was up to coping with all the energy that comes in those small, furry forms.
But mostly, she said, she was done with kittens because she wanted to give an adult cat a chance.
If she had told me this in person instead of on the phone, I would have hugged the stuffing out of her. I love it when people decide to adopt an older pet.
Because kittens are so very appealing, adult cats have the lowest adoption rate at many shelters. It's a tragedy for the cats, of course, but it's also unfortunate for many people who don't realize that an adult cat may, in many cases, be a better choice than a kitten.
You know pretty well what you're getting with a grown cat -- activity level, sociability and health. Given time in a loving environment, a grown cat forms just as tight a bond with his new people as any kitten can.
So how do you choose?
Knowing a little of the animal's background is helpful if your family has children or dogs. Most shelters try to provide some basic information, which they ask of the people giving up their pets. If you don't have complicating factors such as other pets or young children, though, knowing a background isn't quite so important.
If at all possible, take each cat you're considering away from the caging area of the adoption center. Sit in a quiet place and try to get a feel for the cat as an individual. Shelters are stressful places, so he may need a few quiet minutes to collect himself, but the most calm, confident and outgoing of cats will respond pretty readily to your attention, relaxing in your lap, pushing for strokes and purring.
You should get a sense of good health and vitality from the animal you're considering adopting. He should feel good in your arms: neither too thin nor too fat, well put-together, sleek and solid. If ribs are showing or if the animal is potbellied, it may be malnutrition or worms -- both fixable, but signs of neglect that may indicate deeper problems with socialization or general health.
With soothing words and gentle caresses, go over the animal from nose to tail. The cat's skin should be clean and unbroken, covered thickly with a glossy coat of fur. Ears should be clean as well, and the eyes should be clear and bright. The cat's nose should be clear of discharge, and in the mouth, look for rosy-pink gums and white teeth.
If you adopt from a shelter, the animal may also have been checked by a veterinarian, and certified free of parasites or disease. If a veterinary check hasn't been done, you might want to consider it as a condition of adoption.
The final step is intangible, that wonderful feeling you get when you finally meet the right cat. If a healthy, happy cat tugs at your heartstrings, sign the paperwork and take him home!
My friend looked for almost a month before adopting not one, but two shelter cats, a pair of bonded sisters who had ended up homeless after declining health forced their previous owner into a nursing home. The two 6-year-olds are well-mannered and loving, big fluffy sweethearts who settled quickly and happily into their new home.
Many of these happy endings are waiting to happen, and are no further away than the nearest shelter or rescue group.
PETS ON THE WEB
About.com has a very good section on cats (http://cats.about.com), an appealing mix of basic care advice and material of a more entertaining nature. It's well-organized, with a full menu down the side of each page, and fairly complete, with routine articles supplemented by many of a more creative bent. The site includes a good glossary of feline-related terms as well as oodles of suggested cat names. In all, you'll find lots to keep you entertained and educated.
In a recent column I wrote that a dog doesn't need to wear a rabies tag as long as he wears a municipal license, since in order to get a license, proof of valid rabies vaccination is required. Some readers wrote in to point out that isn't the case where they lived, and that proof of rabies wasn't required to get a license. So let me change my answer a bit.
If proof of rabies is required to get a license where you live, your dog should be fine wearing a license and an ID tag. (Because collars can slip off or be removed, I also recommend a microchip.) If, however, you are not required to provide proof of rabies vaccine to get a license, then leave the rabies tag on the collar as well.
And thanks to the readers who suggested that the sharp edges on any tags can be easily smoothed with a grinding tool.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I have two kittens that I have hand-raised since they were 2 days old. Now they are 7 months old, and both have gone through their first heat. I have some questions in regard to this. First, is it uncomfortable? They did not seem happy about the whole thing. Second, since these cats are strictly house cats, never going outside, do you recommend getting them fixed? My veterinarian says fix them, but she gets $75 a cat, so of course she wants to fix them. What do you think? -- C.R., via e-mail
A: Fix 'em! The cost is a bargain compared to the benefits for you and the cats.
Being in season is very uncomfortable for your cats, who will be so frantic to breed that they will yowl and writhe incessantly. The behavior can be so extreme that every veterinarian has experienced a pet owner bringing in a cat in season who seems to be in such great pain that the owner is sure the animal has been injured.
Until they become pregnant, cats keep coming back into season for most of the year, starting the problem over before you've barely gotten used to the peace and quiet. Unspayed cats are pretty much always in heat.
A cat's sense of smell being what it is, I'm fairly certain that you'll have feline suitors outside your house as well -- yowling, urine-marking and fighting.
Spaying also offers considerable health advantages. Cats who are left intact are prone to life-threatening infections of the uterus, as well as ovarian, uterine or mammary cancers. These problems are not uncommon and are completely preventable with surgery.
Incidentally, your comment that your veterinarian suggests surgery because she will benefit financially is sure to raise the blood pressure of many in the profession, especially because spay-neuter surgeries are a relative bargains. They're a service veterinarians perform at less than true cost because many believe they have a responsibility to help fight pet overpopulation. While the neutering of male pets is a relatively uncomplicated procedure, the spaying of females is significant abdominal surgery, even if routine.
Show your veterinarian a little respect, please, both for her ability to provide professional advice that's in the best interest of your cats and for her efforts to keep the cost of this procedure as low as possible.
Q: Our solution to muddy dog paws is hilarious to watch but very effective. Callaway, our 5-year-old Aussie, comes in and immediately sits on his rug by the door. My husband swishes one paw at a time in a plastic pitcher filled with warm, soapy water, then I dry the clean paw with a towel.
When it's cold outside, Callaway really likes the warm water on his feet and relaxes while we do the cleaning. Now, if you have any ideas about keeping 13-year-old boys clean, will you please let me know? -- K.G., via e-mail
A: Thanks for the suggestion! It's amazing what a little dog training can do when it comes to helping to keep the house clean. As for keeping 13-year-old boys clean ... that's really beyond my expertise as a pet columnist, sorry. By the way: I'm guessing someone in your home is a golfer, with a family dog named after a popular brand of clubs!
I'll continue to offer suggestions from readers on keeping a house clean when pets are around, especially as we head into the worst of muddy-paw season.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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